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Fr. 733

October 29, 2016

In a recent interview, Sally Haslanger describes a familiar form of ideology, i.e. a set of beliefs to justify a subordinate place in society, before setting out her peculiar, more novel understanding thereof:

[A]nother way that inequality or injustice can be entrenched is by infiltrating the conscious awareness of people so that they form a practical orientation in the world that guides them not in a way that’s completely deterministic, but it guides them to perform certain kinds of practices, to engage with people in certain ways, and so you develop a kind of social fluency – or we sometimes even call them social skills – that enable people to get along in society and coordinate, but the terms of co-ordination are unfair or unjust, but that’s not always obvious to the people who are acting and performing those practices.

In a word, the process of acculturation leads people to develop a practical orientation, which Haslanger also terms “know-how”, in which rules and expectations for the relevant society, culture or sub-culture are bound up. Far from being set out as explicit presuppositions, the rules and expectations at the root of such “know-how” can operate at the level of implicit structures.

In order to show the full range of situations, Haslanger emphasizes that people can be more or less complicit in the ideology operative in the society, culture or sub-culture around, in function of its designated scope. She instructively contrasts the case of Victorian women, who, through acculturation, were complicit in the ideology oppressing them, with that of people of color in the United States who resist:

Often there’s a mix of between repressive mechanisms and the ideological mechanisms. So part of what happens is that if you begin to diverge, then repression will sometimes show its face. You will be pushed back into that place. And there will also be cases where – for example, in racism in the United States – that the people of colour are not caught up in the ideology. They very well know that this is unjust or unfair, but oftentimes the people who are in charge, so to speak, they are caught up in the ideology. So repression is more common because the people are resistant.

In reality, the precise combination of operative repression and ideology depends on the relation to the group within question, as whether relatively more inside or outside. Still, an important point raised above bears further explanation: the distinction between explicit and implicit. If the features of ideology operate at the level of explicit presuppositions, then combatting that ideology can take the form of discourse and argumentation. Yet not all ideology displays explicit presuppositions, instead relying on implicit, internalized structures:

A world view; where the way I’m using the term it’s more this idea of a practical consciousness or practical orientation in the world. It’s a knowhow for getting around in the world, and so it can be expressed. Sometimes an ideology does take explicit form and the people can argue about it and disagree with it […] You can argue about the facts of that, and that would be an explicit ideology, but there is, I think, a deeper level, a kind of ideology that guides us. So what happens is that many white Americans are afraid of black Americans. They’re afraid of housing projects. They’re afraid of being in places where they’re in the racial minority. That, I think of as ideological, even if they wouldn’t assent to the belief that African Americans were more dangerous or people of colour are more dangerous.

(In the case of white Americans, this has sometimes characterized as involuntary racism, a somewhat unfortunate term having both positive and negative senses and applications.) When a matter of implicit, internalized structures, discourse and argumentation can only get interlocutors so far in that those structures underlying the behavior are not always readily available to the person’s mental economy. A lifetime of acculturation has ingrained them at the level of behavior, gesture, nonverbal interaction, etc. In other words, rational processes, along the lines of premises and deduction, inference and judgment, do not enter into their thoughts or actions in such a way that opposed rational processes might correct them.

Haslanger provides her own example as a Northern child living in the South:

I didn’t have the knowhow. I was too young to have any explicit beliefs about this. I just had this knowhow of living in a less segregated community. I’d go into segregated community and, literally, I would get in the front seat of a car with a black person, and people would drag me out of that car and say no, you can’t get in that car […] I’d go why can’t I get in that car? Excuse me? I don’t think that in the moment that they were dragging me out of the car that they were thinking to themselves, oh, black people are violent, and so this is a risk to this person’s well being. It was just this is not done.

If ideology is so entrenched and its presuppositions ordinarily unattainable by rational processes, how does one then go about combating them? Precisely through affective means at the level of habits and practices.

 

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